What is hay fever?
Hay fever is the most common name for pollen allergy and is most commonly caused by grass pollens, although other pollens can also trigger the symptoms. The symptoms are caused when immune system reacts to pollen in the body to produce histamine and other chemicals.
Around two in every ten people have this allergy and it is thought that more than 10 million people in Britain suffer with hay fever. You are more likely to suffer from hay fever if you have a family history of allergies, or if you suffer from asthma or eczema. Most people develop hay fever in childhood or when they are a teenager, although it can be triggered at any age. Many people find, however, that they grow out of the condition and suffer less from the symptoms of hay fever as an adult.
Hay fever symptoms can include frequent sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy eyes and an itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears. As a sufferer, you may also experience the loss of your sense of smell, facial pain, sweating and headaches – although these symptoms are less common. Asthma sufferers may find that their symptoms get worse when suffering from hay fever and may experience a tight chest, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.
When is hay fever season in the UK?
Tree pollen occurs first, typically from late March to mid-May. Grass lasts from mid-May until July, and weed pollen covers the end of June to September.
Most people are allergic to grass pollen and affects around 25% of people. Weed pollen can be released at any time but the season typically covers the end of June to September.
However, dependent upon where you live in the UK, the hay fever season will start at different times. For example, there’s a later start and shorter season in the north of the UK, where generally there is less pollen. Urban areas have lower counts than the countryside, and places inland have higher counts than around the coast.
There are also loads of factors that change the start date of the pollen season. Low temperatures in winter will keep plants and trees dormant for longer into the new year. Essentially, the lower the temperature the less pollen is produced, but, this can change if soil and air temperatures in spring are higher than normal.
Spring rainfall is also key, as a dry season reduces the amount of pollen production. Regardless of the weather, pollen is also dependent on how hardy different species are and how well they cope with a mixture of different types in one region.
What will climate change do to pollen patterns in the UK?
It’s likely a changing climate will impact pollen patterns in at least three ways:
- A changing climate will mean that changes in temperature and rainfall may lengthen the UK pollen season and potentially make pollen concentrations higher.
- It’s possible that climate change will lead to changes in the potency of pollen – a single pollen particle can have varying amounts of the allergy-causing agent on it.
- The UK is also facing a threat from changes in the geographical distribution of allergenic plants, due to climate change, with invasive species such as ambrosia (common ragweed) being on the watch list. A single ragweed plant can produce a billion grains of pollen per season and its pollen causes strong allergic reactions.
Treatments for hay fever
Although there is currently no cure for hay fever, most people are able to relieve their symptoms with treatment. The most effective way to prevent hay fever is to avoid exposure to pollen but this is almost impossible, particularly during the summer months. Instead, many people rely on antihistamines, which can prevent the allergic reaction from happening, and corticosteroids, which reduce any inflammation and swelling caused by the pollen allergy. Eye drops can also help. There is also the option now to have the hay fever injection called the Kenalog injection which is available at Simply Aesthetics.
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